How to keep up with a jam group?


At the FiddleHed monthly Office Hours, FiddleHed Sue says: I have joined a new jam group recently and they play really fast. They encourage me to join in but I really don’t keep up with them well. How can I keep up?

Six Things To Help You Keep Up In A Jam Group

  1. Prepare
  2. Just listen
  3. Record the session
  4. Learn to play chord backup
  5. Play the anchor points
  6. Find other “slow players”


Practice tunes that you know will be played.

Practice ear-training with call-and-response exercises.

Call-and-response: G0, G1, G2, G3, D0

Here’s a library of call-and-response exercises.

Warm up before going to the session.

Just Listen

Try to find out the set list before a jam if possible. Then listen to the songs on a daily basis.

If you’re in a session and don’t know a tune, start by just listening to it. Can you pick out any repeating parts? Can you hear the form of the tune (AABB, AABA, etc.).

Record the Session

Record each tune during a session. Ask for the title and scale of each tune. Label your recordings.

Then listen daily. Pick one tune to learn. Use Amazing Slowdowner (or similar app) to learn and practice it from your recording. Try to sing or hum the tune. This helps you learn the tune on your instrument.

Next time you’re at the session, ask to play the tunes you practiced.

Learn to play chord backup

Practice chords and chord progressions. If you don’t know the melody, you can contribute by playing chords. Knowing a handful of simple chords will help you to play thousands of tunes: G, D, A, C, F Major; A, D, E Minor. That may seem like more than a handful, but a lot of chord “shapes” can be major or minor.

Go to Chord Backup Central for a series of lessons on this.

The easiest form of backup is to simply play root notes. Wagon Wheel Duet

FiddleHed Leanna says: I just play chords or single notes in the background when playing at a jam. You don’t have to play as fast and you can add some color to every tune.

Play the anchor points

If you don’t know a tune at a session, listen and then try to play one little part. If you can pick up one little section of a tune (even just a few notes), then do that. I think of these little bits “Anchors Points.”

Learn to play quietly. That way, you can experiment without throwing others off.

Find other “slow players”

Look around for other people who want to practice slowly. Maybe even another person in the group.

Or start a “slow players” session. Look for other slow players on Craigslist or Meetup

And for any “fast” players reading this, consider consider getting together with a more beginner player to play through tunes. Your own skills will improve through teaching others.

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2 responses to “How to keep up with a jam group?

  1. Great question! I agree w/Jason’s and Rick’s responses. I started on the fiddle Feb. 7, 2022 and started w/FiddleHed on May 2, 2022. In Sept. 2022, I was invited to attend a local bluegrass jam (they’ve been doing this weekly jam for their 21st year now). But they don’t have many fiddle players, so they’ve been especially welcoming and supportive to me. For my first song, I picked “I’ll Fly Away” (in G), and I practiced w/the FiddleHed lesson and full playback and also Strum Machine. Pick a simple song you can learn to play solidly. In the jam, it will be received better if you play it at a slower tempo that you can play solidly rather than trying to play it faster, but you can’t hold the tempo and play the song solidly. They’ve all been there with starting so they understand! Then, when you’re not playing the melody, start by playing just the root note of the chord of the measure (you could use this time to “practice” quiet long bows). Or you can “chop” on the off beats (any mandolins there would be doing this). If you don’t know the song, try to listen to anyone there playing bass, the bass person is holding the chord, listen especially for what the bass is playing on the 1 and 3 beats of a 4 beat measure. I hope this helps! Don’t give up, keep trying w/it!!!

  2. Great technique for jams that are maybe just a bit above our skill level. I think listening and playing backup chords really help and just sitting in on the sessions trains your mind to move a little faster. Although you may need to sit in a few sessions before you feel comfortable doing it, when it is your turn to lead a tune, don’t defer! Then set the tempo at your comfort level. It won’t hurt all those speed demons to play one correctly at a slower tempo!